A Global Community of Shared Future: A Critique of Beijing’s Vision for Global Order

By Trent Trepanier

World federalists face the difficult task of promoting democracy in a world where autocracies are becoming more powerful and influential. Liberal democracies encompass smaller percentages of global economic activity and military spending, while autocratic monarchies and one-party states are on the upswing. As a result, autocrats are emboldened to promote their own ideas for global governance models which further their interests and values. This demands world federalists engage directly with both the declaratory and action policies of those governments. The white paper published in September by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, titled ‘A Global Community of Shared Future: China’s Proposals and Actions,’ seeks to outline the government’s vision for a new global order. In this article I will analyze its main principles and provide an argument as to how world federalists should respond to such a plan for international relations in a world which is becoming more and more dangerous for democracy.

According to the paper, its purpose is “to introduce the theoretical base, practice, and development” of a global community capable of garnering large support and consensus. This project begins from the claim interdependence is the prevailing tendency throughout history. What supposedly follows is a convergence of duties and responsibilities among the world’s actors, and, importantly, their interests. Such a trend, the paper argues, has led to various crises becoming worse since the end of the Cold War, a period which has seen the United States recede from the clear global superpower to a state which is increasingly challenged by rising powers. This new era of multipolarity demands new ideas for international relations premised on the harmonization of interests and responsibilities, sovereign equality, and the democratization of international politics.

For world federalists, the democratization of international relations should be the goal we strive for, yet the democratization Beijing proposes is far from the representative global democracy of a world parliament advocated for by many in our movement. Rather, Beijing’s vision of global democracy rests on consultation between the world’s states. Global citizenship with a universalized set of human rights makes no appearance in the document’s conception of a democratic future. Equal sovereignty extends to sates but no further; certainly not to a transference of authority to a body capable of making binding decisions upon the peoples and nations of the world. This raises a fundamental issue for global democrats: global democracy based upon subsidiarity would seem to require a respect for the democratization Beijing is pushing, in that all subsidiary member states must be equal. Global democracy, though, must not be allowed to stop there. If the prevailing trend of history really is greater interdependence, it would logically follow that noninterference would decrease in importance as a principle for global governance. Consolidation of decision-making authority would appear as the result of greater interdependence, because if each unit’s decisions were to impact like units, a higher authority should be established which manages them all.

At most, Beijing’s document is a half-step toward the realization of global democracy. As such its principles are both necessary and a potential danger if they are not pushed further to include global citizenship, the spread of representative democracy at the national level, and the establishment of a world parliament and world law. In such a global democracy as many world federalists support, each political sub-unit would have an equal status under a world constitution. This would allow for the democratization Beijing’s document proposes but propel it to the logical conclusion that a harmonization of interests and responsibilities requires an increase in governmentality on a global scale. This is the only way those responsibilities can be adequately carried out, and a worldwide representative democracy is the only way for those intertwined interests to be met without recourse to violence when interests diverge.

Given the white paper does not go as far as world federalists would like, how should we respond?

As stated, Beijing’s conceptions of harmonization of interests and responsibilities, sovereign equality, and democratic international relations is a half-step to global representative democracy. Its proposals must also be placed within the context of its domestic and foreign policies, many of which undermine its claims to peaceful leadership.

Domestically, China has increased surveillance of its citizenry, eroded democratic institutions in Hong Kong, and imprisoned a million Uyghursin its western province of Xinjiang. What it considers “whole process people’s democracy” entails elections but only allows parties with the same ideology as the ruling Communist Party of China. It has elaborated this conception of whole process people’s democracy as a way of combatting liberal visions of democracy established in the United States and the West. Combined with extensive foreign policy initiatives of infrastructure financing, economic coercion, border disputes, a military buildup, and vast claims to nearly the entirety of the South China Sea it is difficult to see how world federalists could take Beijing’s proposals at face value. Given this situation, we ought to see China’s “Global Community of Shared Future” as a further blow in a political contestation over the meaning of democracy at both the domestic and international levels.

            Beijing’s vision is right in calling for equal rights amongst political units, but wrong in stating this is the end goal of a democratic world. Equality amongst units must be a starting rather than an end point to global democratization. Furthermore, some of its domestic and foreign policies undermine its democratic overtures. World federalists must continue to engage with the declaratory policies of the world’s powers as it is a crucial battleground in the struggle over global governance models. This must be placed within the contexts of actual policies carried out, however, to gain a deeper understanding of whether the purported visions are genuine or an attempt at geopolitical propaganda. Where such visions align with that of world federalism, we should promote them in our campaigns and writings. Where they differ, we must critique and demonstrate how they will lead to a less free, less democratic world order. Having such a facet to our movement’s grand strategy will only heighten chances for success and make it more rigorous and resilient.

Trent Trepanier earned his master’s in international relations from Norwich University in 2022 and focused on diplomatic and security issues in the Asia-Pacific. He is currently a founding member of the United States Branch of Democracy Without Borders. He also serves on the board of directors of the Minnesota branch of the United Nations Association of the United States. He can be reached via email at trenttrepanier@gmail.com or on X: @TrentMN.